While championing family values, former Hillsdale President George
Roche III was sleeping with his daughter-in-law!
It used to be that Hillsdale College thought its curriculum built
character and a respect for Christian "Family Values". Maybe it
still does, no thanks to the disgraced George Roche III, who in
forcibly retiring has turned his institution into a school for
scandal. Roche, so far as anyone knows, wasn't a graduate of the
school. And from the looks of it, he was too busy on other fronts to
even audit a single class. He also had a Dean Smith complex, as seen
in his having the college's athletic facility named after himself. If
there's any lesson here it's that a creepy man who raises hundreds of
millions of dollars sooner or later starts to see himself as the
second coming of Donald Trump. The always saintly Al Hunt of CNN's
Capital Gang named Roche his outrage of the week, calling "this
long-time hero of the political right" an "all star" hypocrite who
"makes Newt Gingrich look good."
For nearly the past three decades Mr. Roche has made tiny Hillsdale
College the darling of the American conservative movement by
championing morality, Judeo-Christian principles, and right-wing
philosophy. During much of that time Hillsdale forsook all claims to
federal financial aid both for itself and for its students. Roche,
himself, brought in more than $324 million in private contributions.
To a large extent Mr. Roche was Hillsdale College. According to
reports in the Chronicle of Higher Education and National Review
Online, he ruled the place with an iron hand.
The reason for Mr. Roche's downfall lies in a messy conflict between
his publicly stated positions on morality and his personal behavior.
In November 1999, another right-wing wolf cloaked in family values
sheepskin was unzipped to the American public. George Roche III
resigned as president of conservative Hillsdale College in Michigan
after accusations of a quasi-incestuous relationship with his
daughter-in-law, Lissa. Although no public acknowledgment has been
given, it was widely rumored on the campus that President Roche had
conducted a 19-year-long illicit affair with his daughter-in-law Lissa
Jackson Roche. Ms. Roche was a college employee who had major
responsibility for the publication of its well known journal of
conservative thought, Imprimis. Lissa Roche was married to President
Roche's son George Roche IV (on campus Roche IV is known simply as
I-V), who is a history professor on the campus.
Apparently not content with his 19-year dalliance with his
daughter-in-law, President Roche decided to divorce his wife of 44
years so that he could marry one Mary Hagan. According to a story by
John J. Miller in National Review Online, the impending union between
Hagan and President Roche caused Lissa Roche severe distress - to the
point where she left I-V for a day or two before the wedding. The
relationship between President Roche and his new wife seems to have
gotten off to a rocky start. On October 15, 1999 he informed Lissa
and I-V that he was going to dump Hagan. Lissa was ecstatic at this
The next day President Roche, a lifelong diabetic, suffered an insulin
reaction. At the hospital I-V learned that his father had reconciled
with his new wife. When informed of this, Lissa is reported to have
said "Oh, shit, oh, no."
On the 17th of October Lissa was in a highly emotional state, and had
threatened suicide in a phone call to President Roche who was still in
the hospital. On the morning of Oct. 17, 42-year-old Lissa and her
husband, George Roche IV, visited the 64-year-old Roche at the
hospital, where he was undergoing treatment for diabetes. With her
husband and father-in-law and the new Mrs. Roche as witnesses, Lissa
claimed that she and the elder Roche had been off-and-on lovers for 19
of the 21 years she and her husband had been married. According to
the National Review Online story, I-V is quoted as saying President
Roche "didn't say a word..." at that time, although later he denied
Lissa's claim while at the same time refusing I-V's request to leave
Hillsdale so that he and Lissa could start over. Lissa returned to
her campus house after the confession and armed herself with a
.38-caliber handgun. She walked out of her backyard and through the
college's arboretum to a stone gazebo, a secluded location where
students once went to relax, guzzle a few beers or liaise with members
of the opposite sex. There, Lissa ended her life.
Needless to say, these events shook the Hillsdale College campus to
its very core. Following meetings between the college board of
trustees and a very upset I-V, President Roche was forced into
retirement on November 10th.
"We have proved that integrity, values and courage can still triumph
in a corrupt world," he wrote in his letter of resignation. "Hillsdale
College is a monument to those beliefs." His statement made no
reference to the firestorm raging at Hillsdale.
Roche is rumored to have bailed out with a golden parachute. The
college refuses to confirm the amount of his retirement package, but a
member of the Roche family puts the figure at $3 million.
The fallout from Roche's spectacular blowup has stunned the
conservative movement. During Roche's tenure from 1971 to 1999,
Hillsdale College -- in the words of William F. Buckley Jr. -- "became
the most prominent conservative college in the country." Roche was a
movement hero, adored by his followers for savaging a system of higher
education hopelessly infested by government money and political
correctness. He was propelled to right-wing stardom after the Supreme
Court's 1984 Grove City decision, which ruled that colleges enrolling
students who used Pell grants, veterans' benefits and other forms of
government aid were "recipient institutions." Grove City forced all
recipient institutions to
comply with Title IX provisions, which prohibited sex discrimination.
Grove City would have allowed the government to monitor the race, age,
sex and ethnic origins of Hillsdale's employees and students, which
was ideologically unacceptable to Roche and Hillsdale's conservative
backers. To keep the government off its back, Hillsdale announced it
would no longer admit students receiving government aid, thereby
eliminating itself as a recipient institution.
Roche figured that Hillsdale's refusal to accept students with
government funding would attract big money, enough to replace the
government's cash with private aid. By all accounts, Roche excelled at
coaxing conservative fat cats to open their wallets for Hillsdale. A
former senior-level employee of Hillsdale calls him "one of the great
fund-raisers in the history of political ideologies." Roche had hauled
in nearly $325 million by the time he resigned -- enough to increase
Hillsdale's endowment from $4 million to $184 million, build modern
facilities and provide ample student aid to any of Hillsdale's 1,200
students who needed it. If Roche seldom made rounds on campus, it was
understood: He was out raising money to beat back the liberal devils
lurking outside Hillsdale's gates.
Conservatives were delighted with their school, which they referred to
as the "bastion of freedom," the "citadel of conservatism," the "city
upon a hill." They praised its traditional Great Books curriculum.
And, as the student body became more hardcore Christian right, some
may even have sung hallelujahs to God for sending George Roche III to
This attitude has understandably softened a bit since the Lissa affair
went down. While Roche says he's innocent, it would take hard work to
fill a country church with believers. Hillsdale supporters may now
deem George Roche a lecherous beast cloaked as a family-values
conservative, casting him with the lot of Dick Morris and Henry Hyde.
Reflecting on the news coming from Hillsdale, Chicago Tribune
columnist John McCarron wrote, "It was enough to make a secular
humanist believe in divine retribution."
Roche had syndicated several ethics oriented columns just before the
story broke. It makes for somewhat poignant reading. For example, one
of his columns under the general heading "Views From a Heartland
Campus" is subheaded: "The Importan e of Moral Standards."
"In an age increasingly removed from any fixed standards or individual
codes of conduct, removed, indeed, from the individual capacity to
choose, we must take a hard look at the source from which ethical
systems derive their author-ity," writes Roche, who certainly comes on
as a windbag, even if his hypocrisy is only alleged.
In what could be read as a dig at President Clinton, Roche states that
we live in an age when men often no longer acknowledge any spiritual
authority. He thinks that the separation of church and state doesn't
mean the exclusion of religious values from the educational system.
"A fixed moral code in no way limits individual freedom of choice,"
Roche argues. "People without moral codes are free from moral problems
in exactly the same way that people who have never learned to count
are free from mathematical problems."
There's more of these "heartland views" from the pious Dr. Roche. It's
all neatly word-processed and camera-ready to go in the newspaper. But
we can't get past the idea of his poor, dead daughter-in-law maybe
helping him prepare the material and reading it with him as they labor
to get his message out to the great unwashed.
For many who have dealt with Roche, the Lissa affair is simply the
crowning hypocrisy of his reign. "This man," says one Hillsdale
professor, "is a phony and a fraud." The Roche family member explains,
"He's not really the type of person that everybody thinks he is. He's
kind of like a Jekyll and Hyde." Roche had a reputation for possessing
a free-range phallus rumored to have visited students and college
employees. The senior-level employee who marveled at Roche's
fund-raising skills claims to have fled Hillsdale when he suspected
Roche was putting the moves on his wife. Roche was considered
downright ruthless by those unfortunate enough to cross him.
"What a study in the use of almighty power," says another Hillsdale
professor. "The meanness and the spite of Roche are beyond any human
being I've seen." In a 1996 interview with the Detroit Free Press,
Hillsdale spokesman Ronald Trowbridge told the paper that Hillsdale's
trustees "think George walks on water." In other words, Roche could do
whatever the hell he wanted -- like allegedly screw his son's wife for
19 years -- as long as it didn't embarrass the school.
The result of Roche's attitude was students and professors who claim
they were unjustly kicked out of Hillsdale. The most prominent example
is Mark Nehls. According to Hillsdale officials, Nehls got the boot in
1991 for improperly signing a business contract while he served as
treasurer of a student organization. Over the years, the school's
explanation for expelling Nehls has evolved. Trowbridge told the
Detroit Free Press that Nehls was expelled for misrepresenting his
off-campus newspaper, the Hillsdale Spectator, as an official school
publication. The school has always denied that it expelled Nehls
because of the Spectator, which ran editorials illustrating how
Hillsdale was a land of hypocrisy. But the school's denials, which
have evoked laughter and mutterings of "bullshit," have never carried
much weight among those at Hillsdale. According to Nehls, "Everyone
with enough awareness to realize the United States was carpet-bombing
Iraq knew I was expelled for publishing the Hillsdale Spectator."
Students at Hillsdale can't protest or disseminate literature without
administrative approval. And the student newspaper is censored by the
administration. Dean Carol Ann Barker was the designated censor while
I worked for the Collegian, Hillsdale's student newspaper. She killed
a piece that argued Hillsdale needed a faculty senate. Editors were
also warned not to print the names of professors who had
"disappeared," meaning their contracts were terminated.
"It's a legal matter," Barker told Lingua Franca in a 1996 interview
about her censoring duties. Barker implied that such censorship was
necessary to avoid potentially libelous stories and that students were
ignorant of liability law.
"The stated reason is often lawsuits," said David Bobb, who edited the
Collegian in 1995. "The unstated reason is embarrassment to the
institution." Indeed, Hillsdale's imitation of Pravda was enough to
make some conservatives wonder if a state university swarming with the
most rabid breeds of feminists, multiculturalists and gays could be
Hypocritical, holier-than-thou platitudes are de rigueur for Roche,
who pocketed one of the nation's highest salaries for a college
president. In 1999, Forbes magazine reported that Roche's total
1997-98 compensation package came to $524,000. Yet in his 1994 book
"The Fall of the Ivory Tower," Roche points to generous presidential
salaries as an example of corruption in higher education. "In 1990-91,
at least three universities paid their presidents more than $400,000 a
year in salary and benefits," complains Roche, "and twelve paid more
Critics also claim Roche mythologized some aspects of Hillsdale's past
in order to attract donors. The most serious allegation -- that Roche
lied about Hillsdale taking direct government funding -- was made by
Robert G. Anderson, a professor at Hillsdale during the first two
years of Roche's presidency. Roche "began a publicity crusade, both in
written advertisements and public speaking, declaring that the college
had never accepted 'one cent of government funds in its entire
history,'" writes Anderson in "George and Me," an essay published at
LewRockwell.com. Roche "knew, and he knew we knew, that this was a
Hillsdale spokesman Frank Maisano admits the school participated in a
work-study program from 1969 to 1977. Hillsdale received only a "small
amount of dollars, mostly for low-income families," stresses Maisano.
Even so, Hillsdale's participation in the program overlaps a period in
which Roche proclaimed to the world that Hillsdale was free of the
government's tainted money.
As a committee made up of trustees, William F. Buckley and others,
seeks a new president, Hillsdale's conservative critics warn that the
scandal isn't over yet. "Central Hall [the college's administration
building] must be reformed before any real change will take place at
Hillsdale," says Marc Kilmer, a 1999 Hillsdale graduate. "The problems
were much deeper than George Roche." Indeed, tyrants like Roche
typically surround themselves with sycophants, henchmen, cowards and
other lowlifes. Until Roche's boys are flushed out of Hillsdale
College, the school will continue to be a boil on the conservative
The Religious Freedom Coalition finds the goings on at Hillsdale
College more than a bit strange. It's hard to imagine that neither
Lissa's husband, nor anyone on the college board of trustees had a
clue that President Roche and his son's wife were carrying on an
affair for 19 years. Generally, we feel that private relationships
between consenting adults should remain private. However, if one plays
that game there should be a few rules. First, it is extremely bad form
to have such a relationship with a subordinate employee. Colleges and
universities less independent than Hillsdale have rules against this
sort of hanky-panky. Second, it is even worse form to be playing
around with your son's wife, particularly if your son is also your
subordinate. The family that plays together doesn't necessarily stay
together. One doesn't need to be a $188,000 a year college president
to figure that one out.
If there is any good to come from this most sordid of affairs, it is
that the students at Hillsdale probably have learned a lesson in
Christian Pseudo-Ethics that they will not soon forget. Undoubtedly,
it's going to take some time for the campus to recover its
equilibrium. Those Judeo-Christian principles are a bit battered
right at the moment.
a.a. pastor #-273.15, the most frigid church of Celcius nee Kelvin
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